Gaurav Sahai

Background: MBA in IT and Bsc in Chemical Engineering, not from a farmers’ family

Size of the farm: 6 acres

Average number of farm workers: 3 to 4 (himself included)

Location: Landran, near Chandigarh, Punjab

Phone number: 09569660607

Why did you decide to start practicing NF?

I think that the question for me would be first why did I start doing farming and then why natural farming. I started farming because is an activity I can connect to: growing my own products, being in harmony with Nature, feeling the soil on my hands, working with my hands. To me, farming is meaningful, it is satisfactory. It is actually a very meditative exercise. It is somehow related to the Zen philosophy the way it is exposed in Fukuoka’s book. I feel that we can achieve peace of mind when farming and that it can help us to live an integrated life. More than a professional choice, for me organic farming represents a lifestyle. If I decide to consume organic, that means that as a consumer I strive to be environment friendly and farmer friendly. I started this project of developing an organic farm with no background, no knowledge, no land… But it was a conscious decision. So then, things fell into place by themselves. A friend of mine offered me to cultivate his land. I met Umendraji and through KVM I was able to start practicing natural farming. Then, I started developing the marketing side by creating the Sattva community; it is basically an attempt to connect consumers and organic farmers.

Which are the difficulties that you faced in the initial stage and which problem are you still facing now?

The main difficulty that I had to face initially and that I am still facing now to some extent is the lack of availability of sincere farm workers committed to their work. It was actually a big challenge because I was starting farming from scratch. I had to learn what to sow, when to sow, how to sow, how to prepare beds, how to do water channels… In the beginning, I had the impression that I was constrained by indigenous seeds availability, but now, I kind of know where to find them, and we also produce our own seeds on our farm. Another issue was that I was taught to disregard PAU (Punjab Agricultural University) and all that comes from it. So that was, in fact, a mistake especially regarding contextual crop information. Actually, I found out that government institutions are producing a wealth of information. I still have to learn a lot of things regarding farming, but at least, I feel that now I know the basics. Now, I would like to elaborate a little on my understanding of the difference between Organic and Natural farming. Organic farming means the absence of chemicals (urea, DAP, etc) with natural alternative like farm yard manure or substitute like jeevamrita… I think it is different from natural farming in so far as in farming as per Nature’s way, we should minimize the interventions and go along with the climate. And I really think that the fewer the interventions, the better. We should also use open-pollinated seeds. Eventually, natural farming is characterized by the absence of artificial inputs (no vermicompost, no neem, nothing), a perfectly natural field. All interventions are transitory in a natural farm, the natural farmer’s goal to do away with them.

How were your goals in life influenced by NF?

My goals keep changing. I learnt that it is possible to live in harmony with nature.

How did NF influence your lifestyle?

I am still a city farmer. I don’t live on my farm. In the summer, I have no social life in order to be able to be at the farm at 5:00 am. But it is difficult to create a routine, a constant rhythm. I feel that there are two sides in my personality, the one on the farm, the one in the city: so right now there is still some degree of disharmony. So it is difficult to have an integrated life when commuting all the time. And managing the farm in these conditions is much more difficult than if I was staying on the farm.

How has your relationship with nature evolved since you starting NF?

I aspire to be in harmony with Nature. To be ecologically sensitive, but not an extremist. I wish to be progressively more sensitive. I don’t want to insist too much on the scientific sanction of what I am doing, because Science assumes it is itself God. So then it creates a problem of approach.

What is the role of women on the farm and in society at large?

Women often bring calmness, stability and peace where they are. I feel that they add the emotional and intuitive approach to the logical one. They tend to have a non-commercial approach and to be much more hard-working than men. They are known to be motherly and, therefore, they almost always are stabilizing factor.

How do you deal with the society’s pressure to adopt consumerist behaviors?

I feel that if I want to reduce my consumption, I can do it, but I cannot impose it on my family.

What do you think your responsibilities are as an organic farmer?

I believe that my first responsibility is towards myself and my family and it is to provide healthy food to me and my family.

Then, there are my responsibilities towards society and the environment. So, they are to conserve water, to practice a sensitive farming, mindful of all insects and birds. It is fair that a proportion of what we grow goes to other living being. This takes us to the question of what a pest is. When an unfair share of what is grown is destroyed by a bird, an insect or a bacterium, then, it becomes a pest, and a proper and ecological pest management technique is required. Regarding my responsibility towards society, as a farmer, I think that above all it is to supply it with healthy food at a fair price. Greed always comes in the way of this ideal whether it is from the farmers’ side or the consumers’ one. So we need to be aware of its play, and try our best to be fair to farmers as well as to consumers.

How do you think that this sense of duty can be transmitted to new generations of farmers?

This is a very broad issue and there is no overnight solution to this problem. Education obviously plays a major role to transmit the right set of values, but society at large, including farmers, has to change its perception of agriculture and food. Agriculture tends to be regarded as a mere economic activity among others and food is too often considered simply as something to fill up stomachs.

What do you think the government policy should be in Punjab and in India regarding agriculture?

First of all, Punjab should not be responsible for feeding the entire country. More than a quarter of India’s rice bowl comes from Punjab which accounts for such a tiny part of its territory. But, the problem also lies in the Punjabi way of thinking that they should take upon themselves to ensure food security in this country. I don’t think that the situation can change unless there is a shift in the mindset of Punjabi people.

But then, the government should obviously adopt a pro-farmer stand versus the pro-industry stand, unlike today. It should have a fairer approach towards organic farming and get departments in University to work sincerely on it instead of discarding it without even honestly trying.

And regarding other problems like poverty, ill-nutrition, inequalities, and unemployment?

I completely subscribe to the idea that we need a boost of the rural economies. If that was done earnestly, I’m sure that most of these problems would get resolved.

Which are the techniques that you are using on your farm?

It’s a big mix of lots of different techniques: Jivamrita, panchagavya, neem oil and powder for pest control, sowing on ridges and raised bed for water conservation. We try to select mostly indigenous seeds, treat them with panchagavya. We use intercropping, companion crops like marigold and basil in tomatoes. We put some perches so that birds can come and sit, and then, take care of the pests. We also use some neem in concentrated form, as well as brahma astra and agni astra when we manage to find enough time to prepare it; then, ginger, garlic and chili shake, or hing for termites. We also spray Jivamrita and Panchagavya. Then we do mulching, green manuring. Maybe few other things that I can’t remember now…

Which crops do you grow on your farm?

Quite a lot of vegetables: tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, cauliflowers, etc ; some fruits like water melons, pomegranates; different pulses and different spices like chilies…

Where did you get your seeds from?

A lot of them come from agricultural universities, others from farmers, seed shops or seed conservation society. We have now started producing our own seed on the farm.

What is the main utilization of your production (for self-consumption or for sale)?

The main utilization of my production at the moment is self-consumption.

We are producing another interview of Gaurav Sahai appeared in The Tribune's Life style supplement on 22 April 2009Rendezvous with greens : Jasmine Singh, The Tribune